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Mountain Biking: A Challenging and Rewarding Way to Experience Penn’s Woods

May 15, 2019 12:00 AM

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​We’ve seen photos of the muddy tires and the big smiles of mountain bikers…what is it that draws them to ride over rocks and trees, and up steep climbs and downhill descents?

Some will say it’s for the health benefits, which are many. It is a vigorous, yet low-impact, cardio workout that helps to strengthen the legs and core. It improves balance and coordination, and you’ll burn more calories mountain biking than if you were walking or running.

Others will be in it for the thrills, and sense of accomplishment. The changing trail terrain and obstacles make the sport both challenging and rewarding. Pushing your limits, getting over your fears, and getting through a difficult section of trail can provide a deep sense of accomplishment and boost your confidence.

Some do it for the sense of community. They will say that the best part about mountain biking is the people and camaraderie that surround it. They enjoy connecting with other mountain bikers and giving back to other trail users.

Whatever the reason, there’s no better place to give it a try than here in Penn’s Woods.

Variety of Trails for all Users


Pennsylvania is a mountain biking destination. In state parks and forests, there are more than 700 miles of trails specifically maintained for mountain biking.

Don’t rule it out before trying it. Mountain biking is an activity for all ages and abilities.

DCNR trail systems open to mountain biking range from broad, fairly smooth forest dirt roads to single-track, highly technical trails specifically created and designated for experienced mountain biking. The difficulty of the trails varies.
Some trails are great for beginners and families, while other trails appeal to the seasoned mountain biker.

So, you ready to give it a try?

Mountain Biking in State Parks and Forests


Approximately 3,800 miles of state forest trails are open to mountain biking and of those, 447 miles within 11 state forests are specifically designated and maintained for mountain biking. In addition, mountain biking is permitted in 32 Pennsylvania state parks.

Rothrock State Forest has become one of the premier mountain biking areas in the state and contains more than 100 miles of trails open to mountain biking, in addition to 190 miles of roads.

Trail riding ranges in difficulty from easy to extreme; from gently sloping forest and logging roads to rocky ridge-top trails and steep side-hill climbs. A number of organized rides are held each year in the forest, like the Rothrock TrailMix, a 36-mile race that brings riders to the top of ridges and through the steep valleys of the forest.

Michaux State Forest has a 37-mile marked shared-use trail that is open to mountain biking. It features 18 miles of “easy” trails, 11 miles of “more difficult” trails, and eight miles of “most difficult” trails. Mountain bikes may be used on most roads and trails on Michaux State Forest, and the degree of difficulty varies considerably.

In Forbes State Forest, mountain bikes may be used on most roads and trails, giving the biker more than 250 miles for riding. The degree of difficulty varies from beginner to expert, and trails vary from winding single-track to wider dirt and gravel roads.

Moraine State Park has six miles of trails and a loop trail for mountain bikes is on the North Shore. Some slopes are steep and there are rough surfaces and slippery areas. This technical trail is for experienced off-road riders in good physical condition who have equipment for off-road riding. Trailheads are located off of Mt. Union Road and Alexander Ridge Road.

Prompton State Park boasts 12 trails that are all open to mountain biking totaling 26 miles. The route has a lot of rocky challenges with some parts more flowy, like the northernmost 1.2-mile of East Shore Trail that is old, smooth blacktop. The trails here are a remote experience with very little foot/bike traffic.

Nockamixon State Park has a 10-mile trail system for mountain bikes on the east side of Haycock Cove. Three trailheads are located off of Tower road, South Park roads, and PA 563. Parking is available at the Tower Road and the Haycock Boat Launch parking lots.

The trails are a mix of beginner, intermediate, and advanced trails in a stacked loop construction. The further from the trailhead you are, the more difficult the trails will be.

No matter where you choose to go mountain biking, there are some things you should know before you hit the trail.

Mountain Biking Etiquette


Most mountain biking takes place on trails that are shared with hikers, horseback riders, and other bikers. As the sport becomes more popular, seeing fellow riders is more and more common. Familiarize yourself with these trail etiquette tips and do your part to make sure everyone has a fun day on the trails:

  • Follow all rules and regulations
  • Keep alert and avoid startling other trail users
  • Yield and dismount to oncoming trail users unless they have already yielded
  • Pass slower trail users only when safe to do so, and only when they are aware of your presence and giving way for you to pass them
  • Generally, uphill travelers should be given the right of way
  • When approaching horses: speak calmly, slow down, and move off the trail to the downhill side of rider and animal.
  • Practice Leave No Trace Principles

Mountain Biking Safety Tips


Safety is paramount when mountain biking. No matter where you ride or how well you know the trail you should never ride beyond your skill level. However, riding safe is easy and fun! Follow these simple safety guidelines to stay safe on the trail:

  • Wear a properly fitting helmet and eye protection
  • Many trails are in areas open to hunting; be aware of the hunting season calendar and wear fluorescent orange accordingly, or limit riding to Sundays during hunting seasons
  • Ride trails appropriate for your skill level and understand that terrain and difficulty level can change along a trail
  • Always ride with a partner and let others know your plans
  • Dress according to weather conditions and be alert to changing conditions

To learn more about mountain biking in Pennsylvania state parks and forests, visit the DCNR website. To find mountain biking trails in Pennsylvania, visit Explore PA Trails.

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